Factory Tours offer a fun peek into the manufacturing process, and many even give out free samples and substantial discounts at their factory stores. And although not all areas of many factories are wheelchair-accessible, more and more companies are making their factory tours doable for wheelchair-users and slow walkers. Additionally, factory tours are easy on the the wallet, as many are low-cost or free. With that in mind, here’s a roundup of some fun and accessible factory tours across the US.
Ben & Jerry’s
At the top of the list is the Ben & Jerry’s (www.benjerry.com) factory tour in rural Waterbury, Vermont. This fun tour costs $4 ($3 for seniors) and it chronicles the story of how childhood friends Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield started the business by taking a correspondence course on ice cream making.
Accessible parking is available near the information booth (just follow the signs), but if you can’t do distances, there is a drop-off point in front of the main building. There is level access to the lobby, and a wheelchair is available for loan at the tour desk. The entire tour is wheelchair-accessible, with level access to all areas. Although you don’t go directly in the factory, you can see how the ice cream is made from overhead viewing stations. There are free samples at the end of the tour, but if you’d like more than a sample, there’s a scoop shop outside.
For a look at how Sonatas, Elantras and Santa Fe Sports are made, make sure and take the Hyundai Factory Tour (www.hmmausa.com) in Montgomery, Alabama. There’s plenty of accessible parking in the visitors lot, with level access to the visitors center building.
After a short orientation session, visitors are taken by a wheelchair-accessible tram through the stamping shop, welding shop, general assembly shop, engine shop and out to the test track. It’s a very interesting tour, and although it’s free, advance reservations are required. The tours are offered during the day on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, as well as Thursday evenings. Sorry folks, no free samples on this one.
Located on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain, Abita Brewery (www.abita.com/visit) is a required stop for craft beer lovers. This Louisiana brewery offers guided tours Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday afternoons. There is a $5 fee for the tour (free for those under 21), but it also includes four four-ounce tastings.
There is level access to the factory, except the bottling room, which has one step. Still you can get a good look at the bottling process without entering the bottling room. The informative tour last 30 minutes, but visitors are invited to linger in the Tap Room afterwards. Closed toe shoes are required for the tour, and advance reservations are accepted online.
There is also a free self-guided tour option, which includes touch screen videos about the beer making process and level access to the mezzanine that overlooks the brew house tanks. There are no free samples on this tour, but you can stop by and purchase a pint in the Tap House afterwards. These free tours are available on a first-come basis, when the guided tours are not offered.
Tillamook Cheese Factory
Although it’s probably the most touristed attraction in town, the Tillamook Cheese Factory (www.tillamook.com) is still worth a stop. Originally established as a cheese shop in the 1950s, this Oregon cheese factory has offered free tours since 1968.
There’s plenty of accessible parking in front, with level access to the building. The self-guided factory tour starts with a movie, before visitors are directed to the upper viewing gallery. There is elevator access to the second floor, where you can look down on the factory floor. Videos and touch screen presentations help describe the production process, as the cheese is transported from station to station on conveyor belts. Visitors are able to view the whole process from start to finish, before heading back downstairs for a sample of the finished product.
There is level access to the first-floor sample buffet, where you can try the many different varieties of Tillamook cheese. There’s also level access to the adjacent restaurant which features a variety of cheesy treats. And if you’d like to take some home some cheese, the cheese shop is located next door. Top off your visit with a scoop of Tillamook ice cream. The featured flavors change often, but they usually include favorites such as hazelnut salted caramel and Oregon blueberry.
If you’ve ever wondered how jelly beans are made, than a trip the the Jelly Belly (www.jellybelly.com) factory in Fairfield, California is a must. There’s plenty of accessible parking in front, with level access to the building; and if you can’t manage the short walk from the parking lot, there’s also a drop-off area near the front door.
The self-guided factory tour is free, and there’s both elevator and stairway access to the second floor gallery that encircles the plant. Employees are stationed along the way to answer questions, and videos detail the whole production process. There are even lowered windows in the viewing gallery, so wheelchair-users have an excellent view of it all.
The sugary confections start out as slurry which is poured into molds to create the jelly bean centers. The centers are then transferred to spinning drums filled with sugar to form the hard outer shell; and are polished in another set of drums filled with syrup. After all that, they are stamped with the Jelly Belly logo, packaged and sent on their way.
After the tour visitors can browse through the art gallery, which contains jelly bean mosaics of presidents, rock stars and fashion icons, have a jelly bean shaped burger in the cafeteria, or try some fudge in the chocolate shop. And don’t forget to sample your favorite flavors at the jelly bean tasting bar, and then pick up some tasty treats in the gift shop. And the best part about this tour is that everyone leaves with a free bag of jelly beans!